Gift of the Whale: The Inupiat Bowhead Hunt, a Sacred Tradition

Overview

Photographer and writer Bill Hess shares a deeply moving portrait of a remote region, its people, and whale-hunting, one of the oldest and most sacred cultural traditions.

The Inupiat Eskimos on the north coast of Alaska have been hunting whales since the beginning of time. Their way of life has evolved around the seasonal cycle of ice and migration, and Bill Hess offers us a rare look at this difficult yet beautiful culture. His duotone photographs of the Inupiat, the harsh ...

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Overview

Photographer and writer Bill Hess shares a deeply moving portrait of a remote region, its people, and whale-hunting, one of the oldest and most sacred cultural traditions.

The Inupiat Eskimos on the north coast of Alaska have been hunting whales since the beginning of time. Their way of life has evolved around the seasonal cycle of ice and migration, and Bill Hess offers us a rare look at this difficult yet beautiful culture. His duotone photographs of the Inupiat, the harsh Arctic landscape, wildlife, and subsistence hunting are powerful, remarkable images that illustrate the importance of whaling to a people who continue to survive, and to find joy in their survival, against great odds. Gift of the Whale is a remarkable addition to the anthropological and cultural history of Alaska.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Hess, an award-winning photographer and writer, reveals the harsh Arctic landscape and the richly complex way of life it has wrought for the I<~n>upiat Eskimos of Alaska. Having earned the trust of the community, he was invited to document, over a number of years, their annual bowhead hunt. Rather than romanticizing the I<~n>upiat or the hunt itself, he shows their history and traditions juxtaposed against contemporary life. Through his numerous stark and beautiful duotone photographs, the reader can recognize the importance of this whaling tradition to a people who continue to survive and who find joy in that survival, against great odds. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Donald Dale Jackson
Hess succeeds in giving us a portrait of a world we'd probably never know otherwise, but I think his real achievement is not so much his words and pictures as his courage, sensitivity and endurance. He simply hung in, and in the end he got the job done.
Smithsonian
Peter Morgan
Hess shares an intimate portrait of a region, its people, and one of our country's most ancient and sacred traditions.
Hungry Mind Review
Kirkus Reviews
Through intensely atmospheric pictures and a rawboned text, photographer and journalist Hess documents here his 20-year association with the annual Iñupiat whale hunt in Barrow, Akaska. The text has the quality of fleshed-out diary entries, as Hess recounts the specifics of the hunt and select incidents from this frigid North Slope landscape. There is the search for a hunter gone missing on a night too cold to be out; the multinational rescue of three gray whales doomed by thickening ice; and a rogue storm that rudely exposes the burial place of a shaman. Hess does a yeoman's job explaining the tradition of the hunt: how the whale morphs between dietary mainstay and ages-old relict in the Iñupiat cosmology; the hunter's conduct; and how the sorry history of Yankee whaling in the region has affected the Iñupiat by taking numberless whales to satisfy the demand for corsets and leaving behind disease and quotas on the native harvest. But it's the photographs that really sing. The black-and-white images project a deep antiquity situated squarely in the present, skillfully conveying both the respect accorded these creatures and the wholesale joy and sense of community the whales bring to the far, far north.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781570611636
  • Publisher: Sasquatch Books
  • Publication date: 9/1/1999
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 11.30 (w) x 9.81 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Hess publishes two Native publications, Iuniq and Village Voices. He lives in Wasilla, AK.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments IX
Introduction 1
Prologue: The Journey of Katauq 19
Run with the Boat 23
Uncle Foot and the Return of the Old-Time 63
Beluga 83
Trapped 111
The Search for Harry Norton 139
The Gift 155
Epilogue: A Sacred Tradition 211
Select Bibliography 227
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2000

    Simply outstanding

    I have done a great deal of reading in my life, yet never have I been more absorbed in a book than I have in 'Gift of the Whale'. I highly recommend this elegant, enjoyable and informative piece of work.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2000

    Images of the Real People: The Inupiat Whalers

    This book is a milestone among recent photographic publications on Alaska because it portrays Alaska's Native people in an unvarnished and realistic way. This is NOT a commercial 'coffee table book' or a series of pretty pictures suitable for note cards. A short story, hopefully, will illustrate my point. When I was living in Barrow in the late 1980s, the mayor asked me to meet with a visiting photographer who had requested information on traditional whale hunting (I was a staff anthropologist at the time). The photographer [NOT Bill Hess] wanted to 'reconstruct' a whale hunt, and pleaded to have me call him in Anchorage next time a whale was harpooned so he could catch the next plane to Barrow (he had already talked the airline into sponsoring him). He promised that he would stage the photograph to show the local people in the best possible light and make them appreciated by all the tourists who come to Alaska. I cringed, but politely told him that the Inupiat whale hunters did not need (or want)to be 'airbrushed' and marketed for popular consumption. Then I met Bill Hess. I immediately connected with his visceral understanding of Inupiat culture that he communicates so elegantly in words and photos in this book 'Gift of the Whale.' This book communicates a vision of contemporary Inupiat life that is unvarnished and somewhat raw; but - from my firsthand experience - authentic. Bill Hess knows what it's like to sweat while breaking a sled trail through jumbled ice floes at 20 below. He earned his unique chance to communicate the symbiotic relationship between Inupiat hunters and the bowhead whale. This book takes the reader out onto the Arctic Ocean (in both its frozen and liquid state) and into the skin boats, skiffs, snowmachines and tents of crews who provide their families with life-giving food. The real stories (illustrated with stunning duotone photos of the people and the animals that are simultaneously revered and killed for survival) are more interesting and insightful than any pseudo-reality a market-driven journalist could create. Bill Hess, through his photos and stories in this book, communicates how Inupiat culture continues to focus on the communal hunting and sharing of food for survival. This book communicates in vivid detail how impractical contemporary Western values of individual ego-driven materialism are when it's 20 below zero with the snow blowing sideways, and a fellow hunter is lost on the tundra. Bill illustrates how Inupiat society is built on respect and reverence for the resources and each other, keys to long-term survival in the Arctic. This book provides a visual banquet allowing the reader to enjoy and appreciate contemporary Inupiat whaling, life, and culture.

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